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Consensus before commitment: Jaswant

Darjeeling, April 10: Jaswant Singh today sounded a word of caution on the demand for Gorkhaland, saying that his party, the BJP, would “examine” it before making a firm commitment.

The people of the Darjeeling hills are riding high on the expectation that if Singh becomes an MP, and the BJP comes to power in Delhi, their demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland would turn into reality “in the near future”.

However, at a news conference here this afternoon, Singh, who has been fielded for the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat, said: “Gorkhaland as a demand has appeared on the BJP’s agenda only now. We cannot just jump into the pool. We will examine the issue as all responsible political parties should do and will do it with a sense of urgency.”

Singh said within the BJP itself a “consensus” needed to be worked out on Gorkhaland. Mentioning that there was also an opposition (to splitting the state) from the Bengal unit of the party, he said: “We will have to talk to everyone before taking a final call on it.”

“This is why the word Gorkhaland does not figure in the BJP’s election manifesto.” However, Singh, who is being backed by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, said he was in favour of Gorkhaland and would continue to remain so whether or not he won the Darjeeling seat.

“We hold that the demand of the Gorkhas is not in any fashion separative (sic),” Singh said. It (the statehood) could be achieved through accord, understanding and listening to the voice of the people of Darjeeling.

The BJP leader admitted that Darjeeling was “strategically important” as the region was hemmed in by four international borders.

“Post 1962 and 1965 conflicts, while infrastructure in Northeast rapidly improved, tragically for Darjeeling…it seriously deteriorated,” he said.

Lambasting the Left Front for the state of affairs, Singh said: “This (deterioration) is a direct consequence of the polices that the Left Front government of West Bengal have pursued in Darjeeling for over three decades.” Singh also said the infiltration in the region should be checked.

The BJP leader was of the opinion that he would go to the plains with a message of conciliation. “My function is to be an instrument of conciliation between the people of Delhi, Calcutta, the hills and the plains,” he said.

Early this morning, Singh addressed his first political rally in Sukhiapokhri, about 22km from Darjeeling.

Binay Tamang, the media and publicity secretary of the Morcha, said the party’s decision to start the campaign from Sukhiapokhri was to respect the sentiments of the place. “In the 1980s, this was the place that had first boycotted the election in favour of a separate state. The ballot boxes from 11 of the 19 polling stations had returned empty then,” said Tamang.

During the rally, B. Roy Chowdhury, the state secretary of the BJP accused the Left Front of allowing Teen Bigha to be transferred to Bangladesh. “Gorkhaland is not about creating a separate country. The Left Front gave Teen Bigha to Bangladesh and we had then vehemently opposed the move,” he said.

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